My old-style slow notetaking process.
Replaced now with Elipsa Annotations, which then move along with my thoughts into Org Roam Notes.
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Cal Newport recently did a deep dive on his podcast, on a minimalist note taking system for various areas of your life.
Video’s on Youtube, if you want to watch. It’s called A Productivity System To Remember Everything You Learn.

It matches, what I’ve organically been doing all these years.
And I was really happy to see it structured and rendered so well.
So I wrote and paraphrased and jotted it all down below.
Note: These are my mangling of Cal’s words, not what he actually said. The audio/video above should give you exact specifics.


Minimal Friction

  • too much friction with other systems
  • friction in work that matters is ok, is good, is perfect. McPhee & Caro! But for most other things, not needed.
    • Cal goes on to verbally list what McPhee does, but my notes are better.
    • In a nutshell, friction slows him (McPhee) down in a way that’s beneficial, that lets him do his best work
  • Notetaking does not need such friction. When information is coming at you, your time to act + energy to think are limited
  • Friction stops you from taking action. That information could then be lost
    • For e.g. a complicated note taking process when reading a book, might stop you from getting into the book or ever keep you from reading the book altogether.
  • Your system should therefore reduce friction, so that you can capture as much information as possible quickly, efficiently, painlessly

Outsource your brain? No!

  • When it comes to things that matter, stuff should live in your brain. So that stuff percolates into your value systems and mental models and you evolve!
  • Your brain needs to be part of this curation process. Your brain needs to build hooks. To remember the big things. For accuracy and precision, details can always be looked up.

The System

For Books (the Corner Marking Method)

  • If there’s somethng interesting on the page, mark the corner fo the page (dog ear with pen) and then …
    • Mark up the thing that interest you! Simple marks in the margins. Put a box around text. Checkmarks next to a line. Curly braces next to a paragraph to remember
    • Occasionally write a short note, to help you remember the context, or to tell yourself what it reminds you of, or is there any other place where you’d find this useful?
  • Barely slows you down. Does not get in your way. Does not prevent you from reading
  • Then when you go back to your book, and look at your dog marks and then look at stuff you marked on those pages? You will in a few minutes, reconstitute all the ideas from that book.
  • Bonus: One “shortcoming”? You need to remember! Oh that book? That was the one that had the interesting ideas about such and such
    • That is not a problem. This is the one bit of friction that is useful. It allows you to use the gist of what you learned from the book in the schemas of knowledge that I am constructing and modifying and growing in my head. So that’s not really a bug, rather a feature. In English? It helps me build better Mental Models!
    • You become a better reader

Projects (Professional and Personal)

  • Where do notes relevant to a project go?
  • Store notes relevant to a project in the location where you will one day work the project.
    • I do this on a personal level too. Everything is where my mind says, I ought to look for them, not where they “ought to be.” Which is why my keys are next to my Minnie mouse plushie and my flash drives live in an old, soup bowl.
  • So when it comes time to do the work, everything that you’ve gather is all there for you to use.
  • Duplication is ok. (If there’s too much duplication, which happens rarely, I organically figure something out)
  • Bonus: Whenever you add something new to the pile, you always encounter your old stuff and it keeps refreshing a mental picture of the project in your mind and helps create new mental grooves

Ideas about Life? Your values, your inspiration, you want to do something with and in your life

  • Keep a fancy, awesome, cool, aspirational notebook!
  • A fancy pen you like
  • Basically whatever you used when you started your journey? You wrote notes, you made headlines, you had marginalia in your pages, you did everything by hand. Just use the classiest things you like and can afford, to give it heft and meaning.
  • Your life has few ideas, important as they are. Easy to keep track of them in a notebook
  • You want the form to matter.
  • Digital notebooks? They’re cool too, if you like them.
  • All you need is semi regular review and process
    • A good lazy way to do it is when the notebook fills up
    • Review and copy over the summaries of everything good and lasting and important
    • See what sticks

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